the Minstrel's Tale down along the Costa Blanca
The events portrayed in this series are not necessarily in chronological order
Jazz is the only music in which
While I was still playing in the Tailgate Band Eric Delaney arrived in Benidorm. Colin, on banjo, was the nearest to the low wall at the side of the stage, and when he saw Eric walk in to the Cisne that sunny Sunday he hissed a here he is at me.
When I looked over the wall at the ecstatic throng below there was a man in the middle of them; at first glance he was completely naked. Then, when the group around him thinned out a little I could see that he was wearing a brief (very) pair of trunks, a completely bald head, a hairy chest and open-toed sandals.
"Are you Eric Delaney?" I said.
"Of course I'm not," he replied, angrily.
That clinched it. It was him.
Eric had a semi-permanent job at Benidorm's The Town club. He started
around one o'clock every night, right after the comedians and striptease
had finished. The place was always packed and there was no entrance fee.
Some of the people had been waiting for hours and it was well worth the
I didn't know Eric all that well. I'd played some broadcasts with him in the 1950s, a few dancehall jobs and so on. I'd always been booked with him at the last moment, so there had never been time to speak to the great man. He played on a revolving drum platform, and my fondest memory of Eric was the night in Barnet when I pressed an innocent-looking switch on my music stand that turned him and his drums around until they were facing the wall at the back of the stage. There he stuck, regardless of what anyone did to the switch after that. I always did have the magic touch. But I don't recall ever speaking to him back then.
I discovered, after all these years, that he is a most charming man, very kind and considerate, and always absolutely correct in his dealings with other people. He has also been married umpteen timesI forget exactly how many, but that makes him a man after my own heart, because I have also been married umpteen times. If at first you don't succeed...that's our motto.
He came to the Sunday sessions at the Cisne open-air market several times, then he began sitting in the row of tables in front of the band and singing my jazz choruses with me. He played with us now and again and it was like being in front of a gun battery. Not bad for a man nearly 80 years old. He was always like that and I only needed reminding.
One Sunday he turned up with another man who approached me, while I was playing, and stood in front of me with a grin stretching from ear to ear.
"Who the hell are you?" I said, in my usual delicate fashion.
"I'm George Bradley. Don't you remember me? Dear old George Bradley?" Now I recognised him. New moustache, new name. I'd known him as George Boocock and he'd played trumpet, way back, in Eric's big band. Became a bandleader himself later on and changed his name to Bradley. I don't know why he did that. If Meryl Streep can get away with it, so could George.
We embraced, and I promised to send him some of my old arrangements. Never did, but a promise is a promise in my book, haha!
On that very same day I began to feel quite seriously ill. I spent a couple of weeks in bed, during which I appeared to have fallen victim to some virus. I alternated between bouts of sweating and shivering. My wife nursed me without complaint. Then, after two weeks, she bundled me into the car and took me to our local doctor. He took blood, x-rays and made scanner tests. Then he told me, without holding anything back, that my liver had failed, and I would be dead within a few days if I didnt go straight into hospital.
My wife Conny (real name Cornelia Petronellaisn't that a lovely name?) rushed me to hospital, where it was discovered, after a week of having every test imaginable, that there was nothing wrong with my liver, or, indeed, anything else. The doctor in charge of my examination gave me the good news by hauling me out of bed, punching me on the shoulder, and knocking me right across the room. "There's nothing wrong with you!" he cried. "Well there is now," I said, rubbing my arm.
Conny had visited me every day, driving the 150 km round trip to Alicante through the blistering heat (for we live just north of Benidorm). You bet she was worried, Bless her. As soon as she discovered that I had been wrongly diagnosed she phoned up the doctor responsible and tore him off a strip. The doctor, when he saw me come into his surgery a week later, took a step back, his face ashen. He had never expected to see me alive again. I told him that he had probably gotten my medical records mixed up with somebody elses. Boy! That really frightened him. So what happened to the other guy?
One of my ex-wives turned up at the Cisne one day. If anyone wanted to find me, that was the place to look. She had a sad tale to tell. After twelve years of marriage she'd left me for a rich Dutch jeweller, married him and discovered right away that he was neither rich, nor a jeweller. Then he died. She then went off with a rich German business man who signed everything he owned over to her and then went bankrupt. Gadzooks! Nearly went to jail for fraud on that one. She said that she'd have been better off if she'd stayed with me. Er...yes. I was real sorry about that. Now she's away with some other guy. Still looking for Daddy Bigbucks. She had better hurry. As Woody used to sing, so beautifully, Ain't Gettin' Any Younger ...
Ian Hamer phoned me up a few times and sent some emails. Ian was a very fine trumpet player who had played a lot with Tubby Hayes' band in the old days. He'd been in the trumpet section of the Parnell band with me before Jack took the band into the ATV television studios. He came over to Germany with Derek Watkins once or twice to play with Peter Herbolzheimer's band, so I saw him then. He looked very fit and healthy, was still doing sessions in London, lived now in Brighton and ran a big band there.
The next time I was in London he invited me to Brighton. We went into a local puband sitting there was Jo Hunter, who'd played trumpet alongside me in Jack Parnell's road band all the time I was there. There's a photo of the three of us on the Gallery page. Jo wasn't doing too much on the trumpet these days; only now and then with a street band, he said. Well, that's more or less what I was doing with that band in the Benidorm open-air market on Sundays. It was great seeing them both again.
I stayed the night with Ian and his wife Marion. He had a small house in the centre of Brighton with very steep staircases. I had a bed for the night in the cellar, with a TV set and a firebucket. The bucket was there to save me the bother of falling up and down the stairs during the night.
Ian and Marion came later on to visit us in Spain, but their visit coincided with a very nasty bit of monsoon weather, so they didn't manage to see much. They stayed with us for three days. Every now and then, during their stay, Ian would look at me with affection and say, "You were a nasty bastard." I think it was affection. On a trip to Alicante one day their car got bogged down in some floods. Very frightening, and I think that freaked them out a bit.
On the train back to London from Brighton that time I missed my stop at Purley and carried on to Victoria station. I thought I might as well take the opportunity to visit John Keating while I was there, so I phoned him up and went over to Notting Hill Gate.
When I got to the luxury block of flats where John lives I couldn't find his name on the bellpushes, and I was just standing there wondering what to do when a most charming woman appeared beside me and asked me whom I was seeking. She had never heard of John but told me to come up to her apartment and she'd look in the directory.
She lived right on the top floor, a large flat with the most magnificent view over London. There were about ten men in there, all wearing dark suits and sitting around a table smoking cigars and talking in low voices. They stopped talking when I walked in. Crivvens! I had blundered my way into a Mafia convention!
The woman ignored them, got out the directory, but couldn't find John anywhere in it. I got out of there quick, before the guys in the suits began considering what to do with me.
On the way down again I suddenly remembered that John used to have a large dog named Fergus. Fergus didn't like anyone to leave the flat without him, so he had a habit of grabbing the front door with his teeth when it was opened and holding on grimly until he could be pried away. Over the years his teeth had opened up quite a hole in the side of the door, so I coursed all the floors looking for it. Never found it, but shouting John in the corridors at the top of my voice did the trick, and I eventually located him. I made a lot of new friends that day, all named John.
The only other thing I can remember about Fergus was that John used to shout, "Look Fergus! Horses on television!" And Fergus used to jump up and down barking for joy.
John was well into computers by then and had written a great deal of a book he was composing on songwriting. He gave me parts of it to read, and it was incredible to see what he had discovered about the art. Looking around his bookshelves I noticed that we both had all of the same music books, and had quite often made the same marginal notes in them. Well, we went back a long way, John and I. We had lived in the same house, with our wives, when we were in the Vic Lewis band together, and had been pals ever since. The last time I'd seen him was when the Herbolzheimer band had played a week at Ronnie Scott's in May 1974 and he came in to hear us.
We made a record in there: Scenes Peter Herbolzheimer Rhythm Combination & Brass Live at Ronnie Scott's Club. MPS 2122284-5. Great record, worth a plug. Here's a photo of us standing outside the club. The photographer kept telling me to get lost, out of the picture. You're not a musician," he snarled. "How so?" "You don't look like one," he said. Click the photo to enlarge.
I also visited Bob Adams on that trip. Bob and I had done quite a bit of travelling around to Formula One races in the past, and we had plenty enough to talk about. Bob played tenor sax for many years with Geraldo's orchestra, at the time when Eric Delaney was on drums. We were in Monte Carlo together with the band. Then he moved over to the Parnell television orchestra for some time before going to South Africa to conduct a large orchestra there. Now he was back in the UK. Bob also had a place in Nerja, by Malaga, and we'd spent a week with him and his wife Audrey down there. Took our Siamese cat, Senna, with us. When we got there Bob phoned up his wife to tell her we'd arrived. "They're here," he said. "And they've brought the bloody cat with them."
We'd named Senna after the Formula One driver because he had a habit of sitting perfectly still in the centre of the room for ages, seemingly asleep on his feet, then exploding into action, racing around, up the stairs, down the stairs, round and round the pool and cornering with a vengeance, just like his namesake.
There had been an advert in the local paper, did anyone want to adopt a male Siamese? We went to the house in Calpe and there he was, squirming around on the floor, purring loudly and spraying everything in sight. He had been found up a tree, shaking with fear, obviously lost. We took him to the vet, who was also the local mayor.
"Come back in the morning," said he. "Oh, no," said my wife, Conny. "You do it now. I'm not having him redecorate my house."
Senna was a wonderful cat, but he died quite early in life because some idiot from our garden centre sprayed weed killer in our garden, and he must have licked it from his paws. Strangely enough, both Sennas died around about the same time.
Back to the present. The best thing that happened on my London trip was the Tommy Sampson Reunion, held at London's Coda Club. This is reported elsewhere on the site and it still leaves a very warm glow when I think of it. Not only did it give me a chance to see all those lovely people again, but the man himself, for I had neither seen nor heard of Tommy for almost fifty years.
He looked exactly the same, too. Most amazing was the sudden appearance of his daughter. Helle. Most of us didn't know Tommy was married until we saw her. It transpired that his wife Lise is Norwegian, they've been married since 1961, and Helle works as a district nurse in London. I also found out later on something that I had never known about Tommy, and that includes Sammy Stokes, who'd played bass in Tommy's band, and was in the camp with him. Read The Great Escapade in The Scotsman
Now you'd think that somebody would have mentioned something about that!
A few weeks after the Reunion, back in Spain once more, I had a phone call from my nephew John. My wife took the call and I heard her say his name. John had never phoned me before. He was the manager of a very successful property company in Manchester. As soon as I heard his name a thought flashed through my mind. What is Ita going to do if something happens to Ken?
Ita, a Dublin girl, and my young brother Ken had been married for ages. They had two children, John, now the director of an enormous firm in the north of England, and Anna, his younger sister, who lived at home with her parents and gave flute and piano lessons in a small studio in their house in Purley. My brother had played, in his time, very good clarinet, piano and trumpet. He played trumpet in Charlie Amer's band for a time up in Redcar, then in the Astoria, Nottingham. Ken gave up music later on, studied mathematics and became a computer analyst at a big London insurance company. I had never thought we bore the slightest resemblance to one another until one day Jimmy Coombes, on bass trombone with the Ted Heath band, told me one day that they'd seen my brother up in Nottingham. "How did you know he was my brother?" I asked. Jimmy laughed. "Are you kidding," he said.
I picked up the phone to hear my nephew say that my brother had died suddenly the day before. I'm very much afraid to say that I have had very many premonitions of this kind, so much so that the slightest events or thoughts are liable to set me off on the search to see whether they, too, are portents of disaster.
Ken's funeral was well attended. He was a very popular man, loved by everyone. There were well over a hundred mourners there in the church, and later at a reception in the local cricket club. My older sister Joan and I were now the sole remaining members of our family. But at the reception I met, to my amazement, cousins I had either forgotten about, or never even heard of.
In particular there was a stunningly beautiful woman, ten years younger than myself, whom I remembered as a not particularly appealing little brat, running around in her diapers aged one and a bit. She was now a mother and, only recently, a widow, and I met all of the rest of her family there, all charming people. So it went on. I began to feel as if I had just descended from another planet. For the first time I realised just how much I had missed from not being closer to them all.
I also met my son Marc, after a gap of twenty years or so. He's a very successful actuary at Morgan GrenfellI think! He didn't have much time for medidn't have any, in fact, but I managed to corner him out in the corridor of the cricket club for a moment. After he had finished telling me that he wasn't satisfied with one of his Mercedes, and was thinking of getting another one, he said something that really made my day, and dominated a great many of them afterwards.
My first wife and I had adopted him in 1960. Thinking that we could do no better than apply to an adoption society sponsored by royalty we had gone to a famous one, bearing the royal crest, in London's Knightsbridge. They had vetted us thoroughly for quite some time, with social workers, vicars and various other officials. Finally they had offered us a three month old baby boy, Christian name Saul. His father had been an eminent Russian surgeon, his mother a nurse. They felt that a child with such a background would fit beautifully into the family of a musician. I failed to see the connection, but wasn't about to argue about a small detail like that. They also assured us that the boy would never be able to find out anything about his real parents.
All went well, except that after six months his mother wanted him back again. They must have talked her out of it, but now I'm not so sure. I no longer believe anything that adoption society told me. For my son, later on, wanting to know more about his real parents, asked the adoption society and was, presumably, told all the details at once. He then travelled to New Zealand to see his real father, who had always been a second-hand bookseller, and not eminent at anything. His mother could not be traced, as she was living somewhere in Libya. One of them must have had the brains, at any rate, because the boy was brilliant from day one. And Saul was not his Christian name, it was his father's surname.
Marc's wife Tanya brought my two grandchildren over to my sister's the next day and they were really something else. Right from the first moment, when they walked through the door, they took over the proceedings, and entertained me royally for the next couple of hours. The boy, Oliver, was a dead ringer for Marc when he was the same age. Both he and his older sister Rebecca are two of the best grandchildren a man could ever have.
One of the strangest things that happened on that sad occasion was that an old friend, the trumpeter Ken Rattenbury, had also died at about the same time as my brother. I had been writing to Ken in a hospital near his home town of Walsall for some time. He had been too weak to read the letters, but they had been read out to him by the Matron. Ken had, for many years, been the music editor for Crescendo magazine, and had been largely responsible for my continuing to write for that magazine for almost 35 years. Every time the editor managed to enrage me Ken would quieten me down again and talk me into not leaving.
When Ita showed me the report of my brother's death in the Daily Telegraph obituary column the day after the funeral I stared at it for quite some time. There seemed to be something wrong with it, but I couldn't make out what it was at first. Then I realised that right underneath Ken's entry was another obituary for Ken Rattenbury. Now don't try and tell me that isn't a coincidence! There were only the two of them there in the column that day and up to that moment I had not been aware that Ken Rattenbury had also died.
I took advantage of being in London again to phone Bobby Lamb, who lived nearby. We all went out a few days later: the funeral party, including very many relatives and friends from Eire, and Bob and his wife Rita, and we had an enormous meal at a high-class Indian restaurant nearby. My, how we talked that evening!
Bob runs a big band at Trinity College in Leeds, and also teaches there. Over the hot spicy food he told me that he often demonstrated to his students how I used to go bright red in the face with strain, and puffed out my cheeks when I was playing. Always got him a big laugh, did that one, but it wasn't true, and I told him so. I was one of the guys who kept a straight face when I played, high or otherwise, and sometimes it was hard to tell whether I was playing or not. I threatened him with a forkful of Chicken Tikka Masala. How dare he make fun of me! Apart from that he always sat way down in front of the trumpet rostrum and couldn't possibly have seen me playing. The enclosed picture was taken during a live television concert when I was playing with Peter Herbolzheimer's band in Knokke, Belgium. Nice double chin there, a sign of good living.
I was wasting my time. This was now a valuable item in his teaching repertoire, if only to say, Don't do it like that! and he wasn't about to change it. I tried to think of something about Bob that I could counter with, but he'd led a straight life, played with Woody Herman, had his own band with Ray Premru, wrote symphonies, was something of a hero in Cork, his hometown, so I kept my mouth shut and gave him an extra hug when we parted. His daughter, who once gave my niece Anna flute lessons, has married the brilliant trumpeter Gerard Presencer. At heart we're all one big happy family.
Copyright © 2004, Ron Simmonds. All Rights Reserved